Etan: The End

Readers – As I”m sure almost all of you have heard, there has been an arrest, 33 years too late, of a man who confesses to murdering Etan Patz.

In the wake of 6-year-old Etan’s 1979 disappearance came the era we are living in to this day, the “Don’t let your child out of your sight, he could be snatched like that little boy” era. It’s an outlook reinforced daily by the media (“Up next: Children at risk!”) and the marketplace (“Buy this! Your children are at risk!”). It has been embraced by schools (“No walking allowed! Your children are at risk!”), and day care centers (“We have cameras everywhere. Your children are at risk!”), and by the law (“No letting your kids wait in the car. Your children are at risk!”). In short, the fact that we can see Etan even with our eyes closed has allowed the fascism of fear to flourish.

Knowing how he died provides cold comfort. I’m also not sure there’s any way to make a murder “meaningful.” But it does make me want to take action. For the sake of the next 33 years’ of children, I want to help our culture regain  its perspective. We remember this tragedy more than a generation later precisely because things like this do not, thank God, happen all the time. We cannot raise our children as if they do. And we can’t organize our lives around avoiding random, rare, heartbreaking events. Lisa Belkin makes this point movingly in her Huffington Post piece today.

Let me repeat the words another writer sent here a few weeks back: Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life.

Let’s not prevent it in Etan’s name anymore. – L.

Hey Kids! Get Away From That Playground!!

The headline on this USA Today story sums it up: Playgrounds: They’re safer but still can be dangerous.

As opposed to — what? Anything can be dangerous.  Nothing can be 100% safe. Yesterday a man walking through Central Park got hit by a falling branch and now he’s in a coma. Should we cordon off Central Park? Chop down  all the trees before another innocent victim gets hurt?

What’s just nauseating about this article, detailing the potential risk of every square inch of playground equipment,  is its complete lack of perspective. It points out, for instance, that thousands of kids get hurt on playgrounds every year, as if this were unconscionable. What about the  flip side? What happens when kids DON’T play outside? When they DON’T swing on a swing? What happens when they turn to jelly in front of their computers (like I’m doing now!)?

DEATH BY JOY?

And it’s not like there’s  been a sudden rash of children perishing on playgrounds. The fact is, we are worrying these days about what Spiked Online’s Nancy McDermott calls, “microsized risks.” Sure, there could be MORE wood chips under a swing to make it safer. There could always be more padding and safeguards and warnings and foam rubber. But stop for a minute and think: How unsafe is any swing to being with?  Swings are already pretty safe!

Sure, there might be some rotten chemicals in the paint or the wood chips or the mats on the playground, but how many kids are making a three course meal of these?

Sure, it might be better if we all lived wherever that sparkling glacier water comes from that they sell in fancy bottles. But since we don’t, do we really have to worry to the point where “experts” are warning kids not to snack at the playground, because the air there might not be 100% pure,  thanks to chemicals in the rubber pellets that were put  on the ground  to keep children safe from something else (falling). God forbid that tainted air gets on their organic grapes and kills them in 127 years? They should wait to eat at home where somehow the air is far more pure than outside?

WHAT WOULD MAKE THE SAFETY EXPERTS HAPPY?

What kind of world are we waiting for before we declare it safe to live in and enjoy? A world where the playgrounds are 100%  safe? (No running, skipping or frolicking, please.) Where the ground is 100% soft (no concrete, please!), but not made of wood chips (which have arsenic), or rubber chips (which may contain trace elements of toxins, even though we seem to ride around on rubber tires every day and you don’t hear a lot about THAT). Where the ground is not covered by those twin dangers actually cited by the article:  “dirt or grass”?

Playgrounds shouldn’t be built on GRASS??? That is what the article quotes a “safety commission” as concluding!

One of the experts quoted further says, “If you show me a playground, I can show you a playground that isn’t being maintained.”

In other words: NO PLAYGROUND is safe enough, ever. One wood chip outta place and your kid is playing at his peril.

THE BIG PICTURE

This is pretty much  our view of everything where kids are concerned now. No route to school is safe enough. No bus stop is safe enough. No toy or bottle or crib is safe enough. And no playground is safe enough, even if the kid is there with mom, dad and the National Guard. And they brought along a big swatch of shag carpeting to play on.

“Microsize risks” look giant to us because we are shrunken with fear. Until we see them for what they are, we will fear  everything:  trees, air, grass and dirt.

Not to mention swings. — Lenore

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